You got an achievement!

Aaaah… achievements. The thriving of getting one… or not? I remember at first how satisfaction would go through my body when I first heard the magical Xbox 360 achievement sound (Kudos to whoever designed that sound… subtle, but yet very noticeable) and an icon with a title displaying in the bottom of my screen. I anxiously press the guide button to see what that flashy highlight of my gaming session was about and… Oh! I had gone through the tutorial of the game… awesome.

Achievements have been one of the defining features of this generation of consoles and ranking up your gamer score or just plainly unlocking new trophies/achievements has deemed a big success. However, both gamers and designers have realized that simply implementing achievements in a game for the sake of having them doesn’t really prove very satisfying unless there is some real sense of achievement. I am not what I would consider an achievement hunter: I normally don’t bother about them except for those that pose a challenge or are just plain fun to obtain; I do, however, enjoy when one is particularily satisfying. I started thinking about this when playing the co-op campaign in Portal 2 with a friend via Steam and unlocking the “Can´t touch this” achievement. Now, before you rush off to look it out in the internet, let me advise you that it is one of those achievements that is more gratifying to unlock if you don´t know how. The simple concept and yet the exhilarating moment of obtaining it makes you think that a designer did think a user would do that… and rightly so. I´ve been humming the song ever since. Achievements are normally done in the last minute as there is no gameplay design thought around them, and that is obvious most of the times. Getting an achievement for completing a game can be expected, but the reward in that is the fact that you have finished it yourself. The “Can´t touch this” Portal 2 achievement is a wink to all users who unknowingly find it, creating a real connection between designers and player.

Not many games offer interesting achievements/trophies, most of them are implemented because they have to be there, but, when used properly, they can really serve to enhance the experience. Or maybe it´s fun to save Fallout 3 every Achievement level to obtain all 3 polarities of conduct in the game (good, neutral, evil)… maybe for some, but just not for me. Crackdown is a game that got me to continue playing the game once finished thanks to some challengingly clever achievements like the juggler ones, because it is damn fun to juggle cars with a rocket launcher!

Developers are still trying to get it right, but complacency and disregard for the utility in a game for achievements can pop in and render them practically a formality that will cause the player to lose that excitement when the popup appears. One of my first games for the Xbox 360 was Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and that game had the worst implementation of achievements after the Doritos game in Live Arcade: complete the game for a 100%. It is obvious that, with achievements like the one mentioned in Portal 2, developers are finding ways to implement them better and, although I do believe that nonsensical achievements will continue to exist, we are getting there already.

Steam achievements are one of those that are going in the right direction; assuming that players expect achievements when passing a tutorial or killing their first enemy is a dealbreaker.

I have just mentioned 2 of them, although I can remember many more damn good achievements. If you think there are some that are absolutely worth a mention be sure to comment!

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